Previous month:
March 2018

on this day: better living through chemistry

On this day in 2005, I wrote about going on psych meds ... at that time, I'd been on them for three weeks, which means I've now been on them for 13 years and 3 weeks. In that post, I quoted from my friend Jonathan Sterne, who told what I came to call "The Parable of the Pissing Cat".

He was peeing everywhere in the basement right before we were going to sell the house and we had to do something. He'd had all the tests and was healthy according to the vet. He'd acted out once before (beating up the other cat) and we were told to put him on Paxil and couldn't stomach it. We were too worried about losing the better parts of his personality. Well, nobody wants to sell a house when the basement smells like cat piss (much less LIVE in such a place!), so we took the plunge and started giving him Paxil (that was an interesting conversation with the pharmacist). He slept a lot for the first few days and then more or less was back to normal except he didn't piss outside the box anymore. His meow changed slightly, and otherwise it's like he's the same cat minus the pissing. We took him off it as an experiment once and the pissing started again at our new place, so now he's on it for life. Yes I know that's fucked up.

But the house sold in one day.

I also quoted a friend who said, "Being miserable and crazy/funny/fill in the blank is overrated."

How is it, 13 years down the road? Mostly, I don't notice I'm on the meds, which I think is a good thing. And something is still true that I wrote in 2005, about the absence of anxiety:

You need to understand: I have suffered from anxiety for so long, I thought it was normal. If I considered it in any other manner, I assumed the social pressures of modern life was the cause. But basically, I couldn't identify the problem because it was ubiquitous, and when that happens, when you have nothing with which to compare, you can't define it, and so it doesn't exist.

Now I have something for comparison. I haven't felt anxious in a coupla weeks. Not once. And the absence of anxiety is what allows me now to understand that there hadn't been a day in my memory, not a day in 51 years as far as I know, when I didn't feel anxious for part of the day.

And it's a very nice thing to have that disappear.

Which is why I say my life under medication isn't marked by what's good, but rather by the absence of bad.

In the comments section, my son wrote, "We want some money for raising our parents!"

Mommy's alright, Daddy's alright, they just seem a little weird. Surrender, surrender, but don't give yourself away.

 


by request: hostiles (scott cooper, 2017)

The trustworthy Wikipedia defines "Slow cinema" as "a genre of art cinema film-making that emphasizes long takes, and is often minimalist, observational, and with little or no narrative." By description alone, Slow Cinema would seem to be the exact opposite of what I like in movies. I don't like movies that are "too long" (a complaint, of course, that depends on the movie ... I don't complain about how long The Sorrow and the Pity is). I am a slave to narrative. But when I look at Best-Of lists of Slow Cinema movies, I find plenty that I like, often quite a bit. Like Kiarostami's Close-UpOnce Upon a Time in Anatolia, and Chantal Akerman's Jeanne Dielman 23 Quay Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles. So, to make an obvious point, if I like a movie, I don't care how long it is.

But if it's not as good as the aforementioned films, I usually find myself thinking about ways the movie could have been shorter, and I get impatient.

Hostiles is 134 minutes long, and there is no reason why it isn't closer to 100 minutes. I liked the movie more than Mick Lasalle did, but I can't resist quoting him, anyway:

One could say Cooper takes his time, but that would be understating the situation. Better to say that Cooper makes Liv Ullmann look like Michael Bay. Have you ever seen a movie directed by Liv Ullmann? If it’s subtitled, you can watch it on fast forward and not miss a single nuance. Cooper is even slower than that. Characters think before they talk. They think a long time. They think before they ask a cliched question — such as: How did you feel the first time you killed somebody? And then they think forever before answering: Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it.

Scott Cooper is after something in Hostiles ... it's not like he turned in a 90-minute movie and the studio added 45 minutes behind his back. He wants the audience to slow itself down to the pace of the film, and he succeeds. He also tosses in the occasional violent scene to wake us up. And there is an underlying existential feel that didn't do anything for me, but which seemed to impress some of the people with whom I watched the movie.

It looks beautiful, and while the actors tend to muzzle their emotions, Rory Cochrane manages to effectively express melancholy (plus, it's Rory Cochrane! In a beard!). But it's awfully long for something so submerged.

 


music friday: 1982

Michael Jackson, "Billie Jean". Let's quote Wikipedia, since it never lies. "That performance is considered a watershed moment, not only in Jackson's career, but in the history of popular culture."

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, "The Message". Speaking of watershed moments ...

The Pretenders, "Back on the Chain Gang". Third year in a row I've included The Pretenders, who by this point were Chrissie Hynde, drummer Martin Chambers, and a pick-up band.

Bruce Springsteen, "Atlantic City". Bruce didn't used to do videos. If I remember right, this was his first. So of course, he doesn't actually turn up in it.

Prince and the Revolution, "Little Red Corvette". If the lyrics were more subtle, the song would be almost vulgar. Instead, the double-entendres turn vulgarity into art. And there's nothing vulgar about "It was Saturday night, I guess that makes it alright".

The English Beat, "Save It for Later". Closer to the future than to The Beat's ska past.

Fleetwood Mac, "Gypsy". The video was the most expensive up to that time. We've come a long way from "Shake Your Money Maker".

The Jam, "Beat Surrender". Paul Weller says bye.

Miguel Rios, "Bienvenidos". I like Spanish rockers who record albums called Al-Andalus. This song is not from that album.

The Clash, "Should I Stay or Should I Go". Was this question ever definitively answered?

Not "Gypsy":

 Spotify Playlist


on this day: tv 2004

Looking back at a post from 14 years ago, titled "An Abundance of Pleasures". The first line resonates with the current state of television:

"I don't suppose I've ever said this before, but there's too much teevee on tonight!"

We take it for granted now that there is too much TV. It even has a name, "Peak TV". Right now (and by "right now" I mean things that are either on now or about to start), there's The Americans, and Legion, and Killing Eve, and Westworld, and The Looming Tower, and Atlanta, and The 100, and that only touches the surface.

But what are the shows from April of 2004 that prompted me to say there was too much teevee? That blog post mentions:

  • State of Play, a BBC drama with a stellar cast (David Morrissey, John Simm, Kelly Macdonald, Polly Walker, Bill Nighy, James McAvoy), that was later made into a movie with Russell Crowe.
  • Prime Suspect with Helen Mirren, which would have been in its sixth season of seven.
  • 24 (the episode where Jack had to kill Ryan Chappelle, a death that actually had some resonance).
  • The Sopranos, with Polly Bergen as the mistress of Tony's father.
  • Deadwood, early in the first season, featuring the trial of the man who killed Wild Bill Hickok.
  • Queer as Folk, with the Season 4 premiere. At the time, I wrote, "With all of the above, the thing I find myself most anticipating is the return of Queer As Folk and one of my v.favorite characters, Brian Kinney."

Apparently, all of these shows were on the same night, which prompted that long-ago blog post.

Fourteen years later, many of those shows remain canonical. State of Play, a miniseries, seems to have been largely forgotten. And people who remember the U.S. version of Queer as Folk probably think it was kinda dumb. I feel like it was never taken as seriously as The L Word, although I liked it quite a bit more.

It occurs to me that when I made that post in 2004, I had yet to see any of the above scenes.


local hero (bill forsyth, 1983)

I've only seen one other Bill Forsyth movie, Housekeeping, and while I have fond memories of that one, they may be influenced by my good feelings about the novel on which it is based. I get the feeling from reading other critics that Local Hero is a typical Forsyth saga, but I can't speak from experience about that. Suffice to say that Local Hero is full of subtle observations about people who aren't eccentric as much as they are familiar in their oddities. Forsyth takes his time getting from point A to point B, but we're never bored, because the characters in the town where most of the movie takes place are allowed the time to reveal themselves to us. We get to know them, and their town, just as Peter Riegert's Mac, who comes from Houston with a business proposition, gradually comes to appreciate them.

Mac represents a big oil company that wants to buy the entire town of Ferness in Scotland, in order to build a refinery. A standard version of this story would have the villagers being a plucky band who refuse to give in to the big oil company, but while the people of Ferness are plucky, they aren't interested in fighting the company. They just want to make sure they get as much money as possible in the deal. Forsyth pulls this off in an unassuming way. He lets us see the pleasures of living in Ferness, but he also shows how the people of Ferness don't have blinders about their situation. There aren't really any bad guys ... not Mac and his company, not the townspeople who are willing to sell for the right price. It's a character study where the town of Ferness is one of the characters, and Forsyth has a genial feel for all of his characters.

I haven't mentioned yet the biggest name in the cast, Burt Lancaster, and given that he is one of my favorite actors, it's surprises me that I've waited so long. But Lancaster has what amounts to an extended cameo as Happer, the head of the oil company. He is, though, the person who is able to connect the rich oil corporation and the small Scottish town. His eccentricity comes from his love of astronomy. It seems at first that he is more interested in what the skies above Scotland might reveal than he is about building his refinery, and by the end of the film, Forsyth has allowed Happer to have both. It's a happy ending in a movie that never moves too far towards anything else.

Local Hero is a movie that makes you smile, if not laugh out loud. This may work in its advantage for someone like me, who doesn't always enjoy "laugh out loud" movies. #608 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time.

 


music friday: 1981

Gary "U.S." Bonds, "Jole Blon". The man whose first hit was "New Orleans" sings a Cajun classic. This song was part of the second coming of Bonds' career, with Bruce Springsteen's help. We saw Bonds in a club when he toured behind that album, and Bruce showed up, still the only time in all these years that we've attended one of Bruce's legendary drop-ins.

Soft Cell, "Tainted Love". Cover of a mid-60s soul song by Gloria Jones, who later hooked up with Marc Bolan, who was an influence on Marc Almond, the singer with Soft Cell.

Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, "I Love Rock 'n' Roll". Cover of a mid-70s song by The Arrows. On a roll with these cover versions ... but it ends here.

Bauhaus, "Kick in the Eye". I didn't pay much attention to them in those days ... there were a lot of synth-pop bands that blended together in my mind, although Bauhaus has a funky approach that at least made me want to listen to Gang of Four.

The Pretenders, "Message of Love". The tail end of the great, short run of the original band. Chrissie Hynde was already 28 when they released their first record.

Bobby Womack, "If You Think You're Lonely Now". At the time, this marked a comeback for Womack, who had been recording as far back as 1954, when he was 10.

Kim Wilde, "Kids in America". Wilde's first hit was written by her brother and her father. Wikipedia fact of the day: "[S]he has branched into an alternative career as a landscape gardener."

Foreigner, "Waiting for a Girl Like You". Still had three years to go before the summit that was "I Want to Know What Love Is".

Prince, "Controversy". "People call me rude / I wish we all were nude / I wish there was no black and white / I wish there were no rules."

David Johansen, "Bohemian Love Pad". "You know the cockroach traffic in here / It's got me drinkin' too much beer."

Spotify Playlist (with The Arrows substituting for Joan Jett)


and when we die

Robin and I were talking about what we'll do when she retires. Talking about finances, not "Let's move to Nerja!" It was more the beginning of a long conversation than it was anything substantial, but just bringing up the topic gets you thinking.

We should be just fine, and I hope I never forget how privileged we are that I can say that. It's all thanks to her ... my pensions are limited, and my social security is small enough that I'm just waiting for her to retire so I can climb onto her benefits. But we have options, which again makes us lucky.

It's not the decision making that's important. Well, it will be eventually, but to some extent, it's about calculating what we'd get if she started Social Security at 70 as opposed to 66, and what kind of payments we'll choose from her ... heck, I don't even know what this stuff is called, the money that's been put away for her retirement.

But you soon realize that what is being discussed is about money on the surface, but the crucial fact (which can't really be exactly known) is how long we will live. For example, just off the top of my head (meaning I could be way off), if she started Social Security at 66, she'd get about $128k over the next four years. If she waited until she is 70, she'll get more by about $12k a year, but won't get that first $128k. So, again just thinking without actually working at it, if she lived to be 80, she would make close to the same amount overall no matter whether she started at 66 or 70. But if she lived past 80, that extra $12k/year would make the Start at 70 option the correct choice. So how long you expect to live matters, and who wants to think about that?

Then there's the part where who dies first matters. If it's me, her finances won't change much, because we won't be relying on my relatively small amount in the first place. But if she dies first, I'll end up with a lot less money, if I understand how it works. And it's about then that you understand you're talking about Who Dies First, and once more, who wants to think about that?

So ultimately, a conversation about retirement always ends up being about dying.

Really, it's another form of privilege that we can even have these conversations. I've already retired, and Robin will retire some time next year, while there are plenty of people who simply can't afford to retire. And while you can't predict the future, we can at least imagine a retirement that isn't an exercise in frugality. It also helps that since Robin has worked for Kaiser for 15+ years, our medical insurance will still be there.

Until we die.

 

 


teddy perkins

I have nothing special to say here, but last week's episode of Atlanta deserves mention. As I said on Facebook, I've seen some weird episodes ... heck, I watch Legion. But this was one of the weirdest.

Legion's weirdness is built in to the show. Here's Wikipedia's description of the basic scenario:

Dan Stevens stars as Haller, a mutant diagnosed with schizophrenia at a young age. [Noah] Hawley signed on to write and direct the pilot. He wanted to show Haller as an "unreliable narrator", including mixing 1960s design with modern-day elements, and filming the series through the title character's distorted view of reality....

Haller ... has been a patient in various psychiatric hospitals since.... Haller eventually discovers that his mind is infected by the parasitic mutant Amahl Farouk / Shadow King, and is able to force the villain from his mind. In the second season, Haller is trapped by a mysterious orb ...

You get the idea.

Everything is surprising and confusing on Legion, which to some extent diminishes the surprise ... we never know what's next, but we always know it will be weird and largely inscrutable.

Atlanta is not like that. Back to Wikipedia, which tells us "Atlanta is about two cousins navigating their way in the Atlanta rap scene in an effort to improve their lives and the lives of their families." It seems to fit into a popular type of series today that offers up the lives of people who aren't a part of the televised mainstream ... think Master of None or Insecure. Atlanta allows room for all the main characters to have their episodes, and we get to know them in depth. The show has taken some odd turns ... there was one episode that featured Justin Bieber played by black actor. And Donald Glover called his show "Twin Peaks with rappers", which is both too easy and quite accurate. But more often than not, Atlanta gives us slices of life with an odd tinge.

Not the most recent episode, though. In "Teddy Perkins", we're introduced to an extremely eccentric man who looks like ... well, I don't know, like a man who used too much bleach on his skin. At one point, reference is made to Sammy Sosa (Vulture had a piece devoted specifically to all the pop-culture references in the episode). When Darius, who has met Teddy Perkins, tries to describe Teddy's face, he tells his friends to Google "Sammy Sosa hat". This is what I got when I did the search, although I knew what to expect:

Sammy sosa hat

It helps to understand that Sosa is a dark-skinned Dominican who uses bleaching cream.

Anyway, this is what Teddy Perkins looked like:

Teddy perkins

The story unfolded in such a way that you were never quite sure if we were seeing Darius having a dream. But the conclusion, with two dead bodies and a freaked-out Darius, seemed to suggest this all really happened. It will be interesting if next week makes any reference to this.

Oh, and the person playing Teddy Perkins? The show's star and creator, Donald Glover, who also appeared in his regular role as Earn.

One other thing ... the show ran over by five or so minutes (not all that unusual for an FX series), and had no commercial breaks. The latter added to the overall weirdness.

 


creature features: the incredible shrinking man and zombieland

The Incredible Shrinking Man (Jack Arnold, 1957). An acknowledged classic of 50s sci-fi. My memory was that the special effects were weak, and the philosophical conclusion silly. But I'm glad I gave it another watch, because I was wrong. Sure, the effects are not up to the standards of today, but they work in the context of the movie. We are regularly surprised by the gradual shrinkage of the man, and while his battles with cat and spider might be done better today, I don't think we'd do any more to improve the excitement. As for that "I still exist!" ending, it's not nearly as dumb as I remembered. Grant Williams does a fine job in the title role. The Thing from Another World and Invasion of the Body Snatchers are my two favorite 50s sci-fi movies, but The Incredible Shrinking Man isn't far behind. It's Jack Arnold's best film.  #874 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 movies of all time.

Zombieland (Ruben Fleischer, 2009). This is an enjoyable zombie movie, with some of the feel of Edgar Wright's films. The zombies are MacGuffins ... this is actually a road movie, with Woody Harrelson playing the grownup. All four of the main cast are good (including Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin), but it's Harrelson who walks away with the film as a badass with a Twinkie obsession. There's also a great cameo ... most reviews I've read tell you who the person is, but that seems wrong in a spoiler-ish way, so on the off chance you haven't seen this nine-year-old movie, trust me, you'll like the cameo.